Health Care

Advocates rally, stage ‘die-in’ for dedicated narcan funding stream

“We’re not asking for much right now – for a sustainable funding source for narcan,” said Sarah Edwards, who manages a statewide outreach team that specializes in overdose prevention. “That’s really the bare minimum the state can do right now…”

August 31, 2021, 5:03 pm

By Steve Ahlquist

Advocates called for Rhode Island to address the shortage of narcan, the overdose reversal medication outside the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) in Cranston Tuesday morning. Organized by the Coalition To Save Lives – a group of organizations and individuals raising awareness about the overdose crisis in Rhode Island and evidence-based solutions to save lives – advocates urged the state to have a dedicated funding stream for this life-saving medication.

The event began with frontline overdose prevention workers carrying in coffins and placing them on the lawn outside the EOHHS offices and then staging an eight minute “die in.”

“We’re here to participate in the International Overdose Awareness Day activities,” said Michelle McKenzie from Preventing Overdose and Naloxone Intervention (PONI) at The Miriam Hospital. “This is a day to commemorate and celebrate all the people that we’ve lost to overdose… but our way to celebrate is to demand that Naloxone [narcan]… be available to everybody who needs it.”

Demanding adequate supplies of narcan is not what the coalition should have to be doing, added McKenzie. “We should be talking about housing. We should be talking about a cruel and unjust criminal system that puts people away because they have a condition. We should be talking about unfair living wages [or] not having living wages [or] ending stigma so that people aren’t afraid to seek the help that they need – but no.

“Those things are important, and they are systemic and we’re going to have to spend a long time addressing those issues, [but] we shouldn’t have to be begging for narcan. narcan is the very least that we can do.”

Uprise RI asked Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee about the narcan shortage at his weekly press availability.

“I’m aware of it,” said Governor Daniel McKee. “I know that we’ve secured about 1400 kits, I believe, in the last couple of weeks… The work is going to continue, we see it as a high priority. And we completely agree that we have to be prepared in that are and we have the resources to do it. We just ahem to make sure to find the supply.”

The immediate shortage is due to supply chain issues from the pharmaceutical company that provides the lower cost naloxone. This shortage could be remedied by the state purchasing the medication from other manufacturers. The larger issue is that Rhode Island has never adequately and reliably resourced the purchase of naloxone. The state scrambles each year to find money to purchase naloxone, and recently even increased their purchase of naloxone. However, outreach workers note that without a stable, reliable supply of narcan they cannot do their job to meet the needs of the community and prevent overdose. Research shows that 45,000 kits each year (market rate of $3.3 million dollars) is needed to saturate the community with narcan.

“I myself have narcan’ed people seven times throughout the pandemic,” said Ashley Perry from Project Weber/Renew. “Today we had our frontline workers bring in these coffins to symbolize how we hold the epidemic, this burden, on our backs. How every day we have to make life decisions for people.

“Who deserves narcan? Who doesn’t?” asked Perry. “I don’t know…”

2020 was the deadliest year on record for fatal drug overdoses in Rhode Island, with 384 people having lost their lives. Even then, naloxone was used to reverse hundreds – if not thousands – of overdoses and kept people alive. Overdose prevention workers warn that without a steady supply of naloxone, the death toll will rise dramatically in 2021 and beyond.

“If narcan did not exist, I would have died 100 times over out there on the street and I would never had the chance to go out and change my life and enter recovery,” said Richard Holcomb, founder of Project Weber.

“Seeing that we’ve had more overdoses this year than in the past year, we definitely need a dedicated funding stream,” said Alexandrea Gonzalez, founder of Gather Together United As1. “We shouldn’t have to hoard our supplies and [we should] make sure we have enough to go around in our community.”

Lisa has also given narcan in her recovery work, and saved many lives.

“Life is more important than money,” said Cherell (Whoopi) Robinson.

“We’ve been looking at the number of 384 lives being lost [this year] to an overdose,” said Dennis, a person in long term recovery.

“We’re not asking for much right now – for a sustainable funding source for narcan,” said Sarah Edwards, who manages a statewide outreach team that specializes in overdose prevention. “That’s really the bare minimum the state can do right now…”

The event concluded by carrying the coffins away from EOHHS.